We are all guilty of passing judgment on another person’s body. He’s too thin. She’s too muscular. He’s too short. Her legs are too big. He’d look better if he worked out. She’d look better if she lost a few kilos. But honestly, what gives us the right to comment? What gives us the right to judge another based on what they look like? Absolutely nothing – we have no right. But for some self-righteous reason we do it anyway.
What is body shaming?
Body shaming is when we make inappropriate negative comments about someone’s body shape and size. It can manifest in three key ways:
Criticising our own body and comparing it to another person,
Criticising another’s body behind their back, and
Criticising another’s body to their face.
One of the most common forms of body shaming that continues to find its way into our vocabulary is the word fat. It is most often used as an adjective to describe people who do not meet our socially acceptable understanding of ‘healthy’ – and by this I mean #fitspo.
Do you know what happens when you Google the phrase ‘fat shaming’? Well, of course, Urban Dictionary pops up at the top of the page and guess what the #1 definition is:
Fat Shamingverb ”A term made by obese people to avoid the responsibility to actually take proper care of their body and instead victimize themself by pretending they're discriminated like an ethnic group. When confronted with someone like that they will ignore all the facts about obesity being unhealthy and pretend it's some sort of evil socially constructed conspiracy by the patriarchy.”
Yeah – disgusting I know.
Why do people body shame?
Well, some believe that making people feel ashamed of their body will actually help motivate them to change it. But I call bullsh*t! When we make a negative comment about another person’s body shape or size in no way are our intentions innocent. And science agrees – body shaming does not motivate people, but instead makes them feel rather terrible about themselves and can cause major psychological harm.
For example, a study of 73 overweight women found that those who watched a weight stigmatising video ate up to 3 times more calories than those who did not and resulted in them gaining more weight . The reason why? Well, news flash, when people are discriminated against it causes stress and makes them feel bad. It has also been found to go beyond weight changes and can cause depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem, and mental health problems [2, 3]. Not a very motivating environment I’d say.
How to put an end to body shaming
5 ways to put an end to body shaming:
Start by being nicer to yourself. Comparing yourself to others is no way to form a healthy and loving relationship with your body. If you want to make a change, do it for you, not because you want to look like someone else.
If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. This is an age old rule to live by.
Make your workplace a ‘fat talk free zone’. We often think it’s quite harmless and sometimes humerous to make comment about another person’s body shape and size. But as we’ve discovered, it does more harm than good. Encourage your workplace to stop the discrimination by providing education on the effect body shaming can have on another person.
Look beyond someone’s body shape and size. Don’t judge people based off what they look like, consider their capabilities beyond their physical traits.
Stand up to people who body shame. Remember, body shaming is a form of discrimination and bullying. If you hear someone make a negative comment about another person’s body shape or size let them know that it’s inappropriate.
The bottom line
Body shaming and weight discrimination cause more harm than good and we should make every effort to stop it from being socially acceptable.